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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Self-help for sceptics, but not cynics
I hate self-help books. Well, that's not quite true. I'm drawn to the idea of reading a book that will make me a better person, more compassionate and patient, more productive. Invariably, however, when I open the pages of one I'm put off by the zealotry, the patronising and trite aphorisms and the uncomfortable moral underpinnings of most self-help philosophies...
Published on 9 Jan 2011 by redclock

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not Original
I read this book right after "Irrationality" by Stuart Sutherland, by coincidence, so was a bit surprised that both books cover much of the same ground and use many of the same examples, but draw rather different conclusions.

Burkeman's book has quite a nice style, and is quite funny and a little irreverent, without actually being rude. It's an interesting...
Published on 27 Aug 2011 by S


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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Self-help for sceptics, but not cynics, 9 Jan 2011
I hate self-help books. Well, that's not quite true. I'm drawn to the idea of reading a book that will make me a better person, more compassionate and patient, more productive. Invariably, however, when I open the pages of one I'm put off by the zealotry, the patronising and trite aphorisms and the uncomfortable moral underpinnings of most self-help philosophies.

This book escapes those charges. It is fantastic for its critical but insightful survey of the self-help genre. It is sceptical, rather than cynical, and I mean that in the best possible way. The central message is not that self-improvement is impossible, rather that self-improvement is incremental. Reading it was like experiencing a series of miniature-epiphanies, rather than a road to Damascus conversion that has erased my messy, procrastinating, irritable former self.

This book might change your life, but - like the column - only a tiny bit at a time.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Walks the line between healthy scepticism and self-congratulatory smugness, 16 Jan 2011
This book is culled from a series of Guardian newspaper columns, and represent one newspaper hack's attempts to use self-help materials to better his life. As such, it could easily have been an excuse for a truly British middle-class whinge, based on one of those mish-mash columns of semi-coherent ramblings that really tells us nothing at all, and that seems to exist between the gardening section and Sudoku in the pages of UK newspapers' weekend sections with the sole purpose of making the reader feeling slightly soiled and withered.

Thankfully, Oliver Burkeman keeps the cheap-shots largely in check, and whilst there is a little of the "woe is me that I sojourn in a national newspaper office and write for one of the biggest publications in the world, but I really am a disorganised slob", it soon becomes very clear that the author is genuinely interested in scrutinising this material and sifting for insights. His prose is quite informal and breezy, but he does a fine job of praising the authors that he feels are not snake-oil salesman (and so Cal Newport and David Allen emerge relatively unscathed), whereas others who seem to promise the earth receive something of a dressing down (Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins both come in for some criticism).

I think this brings up an important point- if, like me, you have been influenced by various self-help gurus over the years it might be easy to get defensive if your particular favourite life-coach or guru comes in for some flak from Burkeman, but it is important to realise that he is not the 'Richard Dawkins' of self-help scepticism and he isn't trying to debunk the whole field, although he does appeal substantially to contemporary sociological/psychological research (in this, he often parallels the equally interesting 59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot). Consequently, this is a useful book for for the self-help aficionado looking to contextualise their own thinking, and also for the individual new to a field that even the most diehard self-help consumer must admit has its share of charlatans.

On a final note, I really like the design of this book by Keenan, complete with its faux-dust-jacket, and it is a nicely put together book to browse and read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, 27 Feb 2011
By 
John Buckley (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This was very readable, thought provoking and informative. It covers a great deal of ground - but really is a summary of "what's out there". It offers gems of ideas to try out... though it is not a self-help book!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not really necessary if you regularly read the column, but nice to see it all in one place, 21 Oct 2011
By 
I regularly read Oliver Burkeman's column in The Guardian, and I really like. I think he strikes exactly the right tone towards the 'self-help community' - he's sceptical and suspicious, but not totally dismissive. He leavens it nicely with some well-chosen and nicely written references to the academic literature on happiness and behaviour change.

If you have any interest in either and don't know the column, the book is well worth reading.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amusing and important, 25 Jan 2011
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I'm only about half way through this book, but I have found it to be very thought-provoking. Like many others, I've bought a few self-help books especially when work pressures build up, but the cynic in me has usually gone off these various best-selling 'secrets' books long before I reach the end. Some of them I've even considered to be dangerous. No amount of positive thinking will make life perfect. The result is that these books always tend to leave you at a lower point in the longer run, and I suspect that the higher a person gets lifted, the more painful the drop. This book is different. It doesn't set out to do anything revolutionary, it lays out some simple rules that may help, without false promise. Simple, but also extraordinary and surprising, observations, backed by facts and real studies. Some of it is actually quite uncomfortable to read, I've squirmed more than once, but I also recognised truth. Some of it is very funny, I laughed at the most common TLA associated with RAK (if you want to know, get the book). There's no smarmy salesman with perfect teeth on the cover, it's a book for real people, with real and complex lives, who just want things to be a bit better. You won't find any plans to think your way to wealth in here, well, none that aren't sliced open with surgical precision anyway. I think this is a very personally rewarding book, I'd recommend it very highly.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent round-up, 21 Jan 2011
By 
Mr. S. P. Lockyer "mrlockyer" (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is a collection of Oliver's column from the saturday Guardian, and as such, doesn't have a central theme as such. It is nevertheless jam-packed with enjoyable stories and theories, dismissing the many snake oil salesmen that abound in 'self help' areas. You'll definitely learn a thing or two about yourself, more about others, and perhaps understand a little better about how you fit into this world. Oliver has a brilliantly sardonic writing style, and is knowledgeable without ever sounding smug. A cracking read, which you'll refer to again and again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good summary of the self help landscape with some great pearls of wisdom, 5 Feb 2012
This review is from: HELP!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done (Kindle Edition)
This book feels more like a collection of magazine articles than a book but is a fun and informative read.
It provides a light hearted, sometimes very skeptical, but pretty thorough overview of the most useful lessons one can learn from the self help literature (according to the author).
I have applied some of these nuggets to real life situations a number of times since reading this book - for example, managing to reduce background anxiety levels by making "closed" to-do lists which don't keep growing as the day progresses.
Recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ticks all the boxes..., 9 Mar 2011
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Good chapter headings and content but a little too research based for me. This is just my personal opinion but may suit others well - I was hoping to be able to dip in and out a bit more, that's all.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why is this entire book in italics?, 25 Nov 2011
This review is from: HELP!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done (Kindle Edition)
After purchasing the Kindle version I was disappointed to find that the entire book is in italics which I find to be such a poor reading experience that I won't bother reading it. Why anyone would think that italics is a good idea for an entire book is beyond me.

Update: 09 December 2011

Since posting my original 1 star review complaining about the (now fixed) italics issue I have now read this book and have updated my review to 5 stars. An excellent easy read and the type of book that can be dipped into at random. Lots of recommendations for further reading included as well.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not Original, 27 Aug 2011
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I read this book right after "Irrationality" by Stuart Sutherland, by coincidence, so was a bit surprised that both books cover much of the same ground and use many of the same examples, but draw rather different conclusions.

Burkeman's book has quite a nice style, and is quite funny and a little irreverent, without actually being rude. It's an interesting read, but I doubt it will make you even slightly happier or help you get a bit more done! it's far more a parody of self help books - and interesting for being so - than any kind of guide to life.

However it's quite a nice read and doesn't feel like a waste of time. Just be aware that the same experimental evidence can be interpreted far differently, as in Sutherland's book, so nothing is really being proven.
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